Two Quick Fixes for the Worst Networking Events

Two Quick Fixes for the Worst Networking Events

I’ve attended my fair share of networking events in the last year, and I just want to go on the record as saying:

Most networking events are a waste of my time and yours.

I’ve been to networking events for web people, sustainable people, people with “integrity,” early risers, late nighters, coffee drinkers, tea enthusiasts, women, pet lovers, commerce lunchers, bar hoppers and more.

Here are a few examples of why those events are falling short.

Treating people like children

I got an email alerting me to a new “networking” function today. Out of sheer morbid curiosity, I went to the website to see what it was all about. One of the activities listed on an agenda was to draw names out of a hat to get a lunch date. Now, keep in mind that this is purportedly a group of professionals who want to get to know one another better. The last time I had to pick a team out of a hat, I was in 4th grade. This activity totally devalues the most important part of the coffee meeting: the 2 people in it! I’d much rather have one meaningful conversation with someone I care about or WANT to care about than five quicky-converations.

QUICK FIX: Look for events that don’t have an agenda but rather a simple theme. For instance, in our Business of Freelance/Pancake Eating mornings, we share a meal together and answer a question that I prepare in advance (in my car, on my way to breakfast). Last month we shared what inspires us. That’s it…no names in hats. Our group grew from 4 pancake eaters to 14 in just a few months. And with no gimmicks.

Exclusivity falsified as integrity

I once went to a networking function called “integrity networking.” As Cohere member Skippy would later point out, “you should probably avoid groups that claim to be ethical right in their title—if they have to overtly say they are ethical, then they probably aren’t.” At the event, everyone had their chance to give an elevator speech, an activity that makes me want to turn to liquid and slide through the floorboards. After I sat through elevator speech Round 2 (in the same meeting), I was handed an application and asked to pay more than a hundred dollars for the privilege of hanging out with Fort Collins’ finest integritarians. Yikes. I’d much rather find authenticity and integrity on a person-by-person basis than go to an event (falsely) promoting integrity.

QUICK FIX: Don’t pay a dime for a networking group. Your money is better spent bringing a 6-pack of beer to our monthly NoCoFat meetup (combined with Articulate City this week!). We keep Cohere open late, member Kevin brings his laptop speakers, and we drink beer, eat chips and talk. Just talk. No funny stuff. There’s no fee to get in, no application and no exchanging of meaningless business cards.

What’s been your experience with networking events? Which ones do you love?

Image Credit: Flickr – Official GDC

Welcoming New Coworkers to Your Coworking Space

If you’re a coworking space catalyst or a coworking space owner, you should probably have a welcome mat in front of your space.

Okay—not a literal welcome mat.
Welcome New Coworkers to Your Coworking Space
I’m talking about making new members feel welcome by doing the basic “host”-type duties in your space: greeting potential & new members, giving tours of the space, introducing them to other coworkers, etc.

While these my seem like no-brainer things to do, I’ve discovered that in some coworking spaces, these things are simply not happening. Although not every coworking space has a dedicated host, for those spaces that do have a host, the following to-dos are musts. I’d venture that it’s a real challenge to get a community to grow—and grow bountifully—if coworkers don’t feel like they belong. The good news is that it’s fairly easy for you to help new members feel welcome.

In my mind, the following actions are musts:

  • Greet potential & new coworkers. When someone new walks into the space, is it clear where they should go or who they should talk to?
  • Provide a tour of the space. No matter how small the space may be, provide a tour to help new members feel comfortable and oriented. Heck, introduce them to the coffee-maker!
  • Connect them online. Provide the wireless name and password…and remind them of the website and any other communication tools available. For example, we use IRC at Cohere…old school geekdom!
  • Introduce new members to current members. With respect to people’s work and time, it’s amazingly helpful to introduce new members to current members—especially between members you think might have skills, profession or hobbies in common. This, too, helps foster community!
  • Orient them to the neighborhood. Do the current coworkers have a favorite lunch spot? Let the new member know what amenities, restaurants and other resources are near the coworking space.
  • Other community connections. Is there a calendar of events for the coworking space? Or a list of local meetup groups & events? Or simply a list of all the members? Show the new member! They can then explore these resources on their own time and get more comfortable with the community they’ve just joined.

The idea is to make new members feel comfortable. Imagine how intimidating it is to be the n00b in a group of people who already know each other and are established in their work and social patterns. This can be challenging, even for the most extroverted of people. Fortunately, it takes only a few simple actions to help welcome new members.

If you’re a catalyst or owner, do you have other or different ideas about how to welcome your new members? What has worked and what hasn’t?

Coworking is Not a Frat House (and the Evidence to Prove It)

There is one particular stereotype about coworking that bothers me. It’s the hackneyed idea that a coworking space is simply a “frat house,” “romper room,” or “social hour” for freelancers and independents.

Yikes. How totally inaccurate that stereotype is.

Not only is the success and level of productivity at Cohere anecdotal evidence of why this myth is untrue, but there’s also hard data to make the case.

Deskmag.com coworking survey

The Evidence

You may have already seen the recent global coworking survey—the first of its kind, seeking to gather data about coworkers and coworking space owners. Deskmag is digging into the survey data and sharing insights about many aspects of coworking. (See the end of the post for links to the Deskmag articles.)

Here are some relevant stats from the survey that dispel the “frat house” myth that often informs stereotypes people have about coworking spaces:

  • Connections: 43% of respondents reported meeting one to three helpful acquaintances within a two-month period, while another 43% have found four or more such connections
  • Income: 25% of all coworkers indicated that they earned more than the national average income
  • Motivation: 85% of respondents are more motivated and have better interaction with other people since moving into a coworking space
  • Teamwork: 57% now work in teams more often
  • Work/life balance: 60% organize their working day better so they can relax more at home

These stats don’t show unmotivated nor unsuccessful freelancers. Coworking isn’t a rowdy frat house.

Community…and Work-Life Balance

The coworking survey reveals that one of the big draws to coworking is the community and collaboration that happens in a coworking space. And “community” doesn’t translate into “frat house” or “social hour.” On the contrary, one of the most powerful aspects of coworking community is to connect with other people while giving—and receiving—value and benefits.

While there are moments or afternoons that feel more “social” at Cohere—for example, when coworkers share funny stories, start a room-wide conversation, or head out to grab a mid-afternoon snack—it’s those moments that make the Cohere community what it is: a place for work AND social productivity—a place for a balanced work life.

If you want to read more insights from the survey, check out:
Part 1 – 1st Global Coworking Study: What Coworkers Want
Part 2 – 1st Global Coworking Study: The Coworker’s Profile
Part 3 – 1st Global Coworking Study: The Coworking Spaces
Part 4 – 1st Global Coworking Study: Female Coworker vs. Male Coworker

Image Credit: Deskmag

Why Niche and How to Get Started

Niche statements for freelancers

So…how’s that niche statement for your business coming along? “What’s a niche statement?!” you ask? Well, I suggested a couple weeks ago that finding your niche should be a New Year’s resolution. And I’m still curious if you’ve thought about yours.

Why nicheing out matters.

This may seem like an exercise in semantics or in marketing—but I promise you, having a niche statement will help you grow your business. How? Because not only does it help you narrow in on the core of what you currently do or want to be doing—it also helps other people remember and understand what you do. When you can succinctly and easily tell someone you’ve just met what it is you do, they’re more likely to remember it—and keep you top of mind the next time they need a designer/developer/writer/etc.—than if you spend 5 or 6 minutes fumbling around, trying to explain your business.

Nicheing out isn’t easy—but here’s how to get started.

Why do you think copywriters charge a bundle to help a company write a tagline? The tagline may be only a handful of words—but those words are so telling, so important, that it takes crafting, honing, splicing & dicing to get just the right tagline. Your niche statement will take a little bit of thought, too. On the start-up and marketing blog A Smart Bear, there’s a series of 10 questions start-ups should ask themselves monthly (and, honestly, most of these are questions you should consider asking yourself as a freelancer or independent, too). Go check out questions #1 and #2.  I think they’ll really help you create your niche statement.

And it will behoove you to think about this…because there will soon be a wall in Cohere that will feature your photo, name and niche statement. (Sounds awesome, right? It will be!) This wall will offer another way for you to get to know your coworkers. And, perhaps, get new business.

Stay tuned to the blog on Wednesday for more about niche statements. And in the mean time, share in the comments section what your niche statement is. Not sure yet? Share what your struggle is in developing it. Who knows–other Cohere members just might be able to help you!

4 Creativity Resources for Freelancers

Sometimes we all need a kick in the pants. A kick in the creativity pants, that is.

From working on a client project, to rethinking your niche, or in thinking up new ways to seek out clients, at times we need a creativity boost to get our minds thinking in fresh ways. One of the key benefits of coworking is collaborating and ideating with others—or, in other words, being creative with others. Whether you’re a designer, a writer, web developer, or consultant, here are some fun resources to get your creative juices flowing.

  • TED
    “Ideas Worth Spreading”

    Chances are good that you’re already familiar with TED, so this is no shocker. Have you explored Tedx (local) events—perhaps even one that might be near where you live? Hunt through the TED site, and you’re bound to bump into an inspiring talk.
    Tip: Try searching a keyword related to a project you’re currently working on. Watch the video and take notes. You never know how watching a video might infuse a new idea into your project!
  • Ideas Project
    “The home of big ideas about the future of communication and technology.”

    This well-designed site offers a place for people to share ideas about technology and communication. The site is a fascinating, creative way to map out ideas.
    Tip: Be sure to check out the Ideas Map – an incredible visualization of ideas.
  • Brainpicker
    “Curating eclectic interestingness from culture’s collective brain”

    Brainpicker is visually and mentally stimulating site that highlights innovative, fresh ideas. If you have a little bit of time to read, scout around this site or sign up for the weekly “best of” email.
    Tip: Surprisingly, even many of the ads along the sidebar link to interesting, worthwhile sites—so be sure to look at the ads, too. (When is THAT ever a tip?!)
  • The 99%
    “It’s not about ideas. It’s about making ideas happen.”

    Developed by The Behance Network, The 99% is an information-rich source for ideas and articles about how to make ideas happen. It’s particularly focused on freelancers and small businesses.
    Tip: Click on “Tips” and browse articles by category. They’re also hosting a conference the first week in May in New York City–talk about a creativity brain melt!

This, of course, is a short list of sources for creative inspiration on the web. Do you have a go-to website when you need a creative kick in the pants? Share in the comments!

Image Credit: Flickr – creativedc

Top Coworking Resources

Coworking resources | heather on Flickr

It’s time to get your bookmarks and RSS reader ready: here’s the shortlist of mega-helpful, super-fantastic online coworking links.

Instead of making you dig through the library stacks for coworking resources, I’ve compiled a list for you. Whether you’re a would-be coworking space catalyst, a coworker or simply interested in the idea of coworking, the following resources will give you a good idea about coworking, the people involved and how to get started.

Know other great blogs or resources? Leave a comment below!

Image Credit: Flicker – heather

Why Problem-Solving in Groups is Useful in Coworking

Group of people working

A story on NPR’s program All Things Considered talks about coworking. Okay. Not quite. But it does discuss one of the key components of successful coworking: collaboration.

Key in NPR’s study was the point that equal participation in problem-solving fostered more innovative solutions. The research points to why and how getting a group of people together to solve a problem is not so much about getting the “smartest” people together, but instead is about equal participation and multiple perspectives from people in the group.

A group of people. Equal participation and multiple perspectives. Hm…that sounds a lot like coworking.

Taking a cue from the NPR story, here are some ways problem-solving in groups might be useful in coworking:

  • You—the coworker—have a challenge in your work.
    Can your coworkers help you overcome a client/work challenge? This is especially effective if you ask nicely.
  • You—the coworking space catalyst—have a challenge in your space.
    Can the coworking community help you brainstorm solutions to that challenge? Or can you hop on the Coworking Google Group to ask your online coworking community for ideas?
  • You—the coworker OR coworking space catalyst—have a challenge in your local community.
    Can coworkers go beyond their coworking space walls and contribute their smarts to a local challenge? This, of course, requires extra time and energy beyond work. But you never know what sorts of beneficial connections could be made in the local community (perhaps resulting in new clients, new work, new ideas!).
  • You—the interesting person.
    Sometimes, it’s simply about getting interesting people together to see what interesting things they come up with. (And if that sounds vague—it should! The possibilities are as limitless when it comes to grouping together independent, creative, community-oriented coworkers.)

Although coworkers tend to be highly independent individuals, problem-solving in groups is where the real magic happens in coworking. This type of problem-solving has so many advantages—seen, for example, in the rise of collaborative consumption. So try problem-solving in a group—and let us know how it goes.

Chirp with Cohere on Twitter
Get friendly with Cohere on Facebook

Image Credit: Flickr – Peter Samis

Two Ways to Be A Coworking Alchemist

space by Werkheim | Flickr
Bjark Ingels is an architect. He’s known for designing buildings that are expansive in scope—and that also solve real-world problems. A Ted.com Q&A with Ingels, “On architectural alchemy,” describes alchemy:

What I like about the term alchemy is that you take traditional ingredients that would separately be just ‘normal this’ and ‘normal that,’ and when you combine them, because of symbiotic relationships, you get much more out of the mix than if you were to leave them separate.

Ingels is looking at alchemy through the lens of architecture, but isn’t this definition of alchemy applicable to coworking? Coworking is an alchemy of sorts: it takes independent people (who may work on wildly different projects and often do wildly different things) and puts them together in one physical space.

So, the “normal freelancer that does this” and the “normal independent business owner who does that” can collaborate to create something so much more than if they had been left separate. And it happens because the two people are working in the same physical space.

So how can you, the coworker, be an alchemist at your coworking space? Here are two simple ways:

1. Work in various spaces: Try doing your brainstorming in the lounge, or stand at the high table when you plan out your week. You may spark a new conversation or idea simply by choosing to work in a different space.

2. Opposites attract: Pick another coworker who does something completely different than you—and ask if they’d share their perspective on a project or challenge you’re working on. Offer to do the same for him/her.

There are likely many other ways to create “alchemy” in your work. What experiences have you had in coworking where two distinct ideas/people came together to create something bigger and better?

Come say hi to me in the digital space:

@CohereLLC on Twitter

Cohere Community of Facebook

Image Credit: Flickr – Werkheim

Story-Telling – An Easy Way to Build Community

Storytelling - An Easy Way to Build Coworking Community

People thrive on stories. Whether fact, fiction or (as is most often the case) a little of both, stories are what bind us together—as friends, families, companies, religious group, political sway or country. Stories can also enhance the connectedness of coworking communities. We all have stories—whether our own personal story or the story of our business.

However you’re involved in coworking, tell your story. Here are a few suggestions:

If you’re a Cohere coworker: Do your fellow coworkers know who you are and what your business is? Tell them! Through your own blog (if you have one), while grabbing a cup of coffee, or by showcasing the work you do. Heck – write something about your business or work on one of the dry erase boards! Cohere member Katrina shared her story about coworking at Cohere (and how it has helped her as a freelancer). The more you—the coworker—share your story with other members, the more that the all-important community elements of trust, openness and collaboration will thrive. If you share your story, the collective awesomeness of Cohere will grow exponentially.

If you’re a would-be coworking space catalyst: So you want to start a coworking community? Don’t seek real estate and fancy desks as your first step. Instead, start telling your story—within the coworking wiki, at local meet-up groups, with past colleagues and with anyone in your area that might be interested in coworking. Tell the story of why you’re starting a coworking space. This was a big part of the reason why Cohere opened its doors with a thriving community. You’d be surprised how much more effectively you’ll build a coworking community by telling your story.

If you’re a coworking space owner/curator: Alright, so you’ve already helped create a coworking community. Are you communicating the story of your coworking space via your website/blog, through email updates or even within the physical coworking space? Can potential coworkers, current members, and other businesses easily find the story of how your coworking space came to be? Try posting a community calendar of events/workshops, or a list of resources for freelancers and small businesses. And though it doesn’t fit for every coworking space, an owner or curator can help tell the stories of their members—both within the coworking community as well as outside of it.

Stories help foster the very things that a community requires: trust of fellow members, shared values, an openness to sharing and collaboration, and a sense of stability.

Speaking of community, have you said “Hi!” over at the Cohere Facebook page lately? C’mon – join me!

Now it’s your turn, Cohere members: share your story in the comments below! What is the best thing that’s happened in your business lately? Which 80s band poster on the Cohere walls is your favorite? What’s your favorite place to sit in Cohere?

Image Credit: GlobalPatriot.com via Creative Commons License

How To: Create a Local Meet-up Group for Freelancers

Hello My Name is... by bump on Flickr

Host a local meet-up group--it's easy!

Coworking naturally creates community—it’s the beauty of freelancers and independents working together in a shared office space. No doubt you’ve benefited from this coworking community goodness. But have you ever thought about having a group that is more focused on a niche you’re interested in? Here are 8 easy steps for how to create a local meet-up group for other freelancers and small business owners.

1. Choose a topic & purpose.

Who do you want to get together and why? Do you want to get freelance web designers together to talk about the latest Adobe Illustrator shortcuts, or would you rather get people from diverse professional backgrounds together to talk about a specific industry? There are limitless themes around which to organize a meet-up. Make it specific, but allow yourself some creativity! (For example, a meet-up named “Freelance Writers”? Boring. A meet-up named “Freelance Writers Who Care About Going Green”? That’s more like it!)

2. Ask two people to join you.

“Two?! Only two people?!” you shriek. Settle down. Ask two people who would fit the niche meet-up group to help you. For example, two other programmers if it’s for a programming group, or two other freelancers interested in non-profit organizations. Not only will having two other minds make choosing a time and venue easier, it will help diversify and grow the meet-up. And even if it’s just the three of you that end up attending the first meet-up, three people can do a lot of brainstorming and sharing.

3. Choose a time.

Check to ensure that your meet-up idea isn’t already happening somewhere in your area. If a similar group exists—great! Offer to join forces. If not, make sure your meet-up doesn’t conflict with other events in the area. Will the event be weekly, monthly or bimonthly? Will attendees likely have availability before, during or after work hours, or perhaps on the weekend?

4. Choose a venue.

Coffee shops, restaurants with private rooms and local community centers are a great place to find free or low-cost space for your group. But y’know what would be even better? Ask your coworking space if you can use the space during an off-time (evenings or weekends).

Did you know Cohere offers conference facilities in Old Town, Fort Collins?  Reserving a conference room at Cohere is affordable, easy and perhaps best of all—très chic! (No kidding around: there is latent Business Awesomeness and Uber-Creativity floating in the air at Cohere.)

5. Set up an online event.

There are several online tools that allow you to share event description, time and venue with others. Make it simple for potential attendees to find the pertinent who/what/where/when/why info. Some easy-to-use online event tools include:

6. Share the event with your network.

  • Post information about the meetup at your coworking space.
  • Tell your friends on Facebook and your followers on Twitter.
  • Talk about it on your blog.
  • Announce it at other events you attend (but only if it’s relevant!).
  • Share with your professional groups.
  • Send an email to friends, former colleagues and anyone else in your network that seems like a perfect fit for the meet-up (especially if it’s someone that might not use Facebook or Twitter very often).

7. Be prepared.

If the meet-up group is hosted at your coworking space, do you want to provide snacks or refreshments? Or perhaps you’ll need a whiteboard & markers, a giant brainstorming notepad, or a laptop for taking notes and looking up websites. An LCD project and screen? Nametags and markers? Think again about the topic and purpose of the meet-up group, and ensure you have all the materials and “little things” needed to make it a great event.

8. Have fun!

The meet-up group you’ve helped create should be fun, information-rich and valuable for everyone involved. Enjoy it!

Why have a meet-up? Because it builds community. Because you can share resources, tips & tactics. Because you can help someone else by sharing your knowledge and skills. Because it’s awesome to hang out with other awesome people. (That’s awesomeness squared!)

Have you ever started a local meet-up group? What worked and what didn’t? Tell us below in the comments!

Image Credit: Flickr – bump

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